Best of New England: Rhode Island


Animal Experience
It seems like an understatement to call it a zoo: One of the oldest and best animal parks in the country, this Providence gem has embarked on an ambitious plan to make the exhibits even more user-friendly and ecologically sensitive. After a revamp of its Africa exhibit to provide more space and better views, work has shifted to an interactive children’s zoo and a veterinary hospital. // 1000 Elmwood Ave., Providence, 401-785-3510,

Despite earnest attempts by wineries all over New England, the region still lacks luster in producing first-class vino. One happy exception is this seaside winery, founded in 1975 and run by Susan and Earl Samson for the past 24 years. The microclimate here is similar to that of France’s Loire Valley, and has proved perfect for chardonnay and Vidal blanc — a French-American hybrid known for its bright floral notes — as well as some tasty pinot noir and Gewürztraminer. In addition to tastings, the estate offers a café and lots of opportunities for scenic strolling.  // 162 W. Main Rd., Little Compton, 800-919-4637,

Cultural Event
What started as a one-off lark by a performance artist to install bonfires on Providence’s recently recovered downtown rivers 17 years ago has expanded to a festival that draws crowds every Saturday from April through October. The crackling flames, scent of wood smoke, and fiery glow add a sense of magic to live music performances and street art, filling the city with creative energy. // Providence, 401-273-1155,

Mansion Tour
This 70-room grand estate, designed for Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1895, is undeniably the crown jewel of the Newport mansion tour circuit. It was modeled on an Italian palazzo by architect Richard Morris Hunt, and everything here is over the top, from the Baccarat crystal chandeliers to a room paneled in platinum, the rarest metal on earth. What makes visiting the mansion truly special are first-rate audio tours filled with stories not only of the wealthy residents, but also of the backstairs staff who served them. // 44 Ochre Point Ave., Newport, 401-847-1000,

Sports Outing
While few sporting events beat a summer afternoon at Boston’s Fenway Park, many baseball fans find watching the “PawSox” — that city’s Triple-A minor league team — a more-intimate spectator experience. Jim Rice, Roger Clemens, Kevin Youkilis, and Jonathan Papelbon all perfected their game under the lights of 10,000-seat McCoy Stadium. In addition to bragging rights of saying you-saw-them-when, the $7 ticket price might just be the best deal in town. // One Columbus Ave., Pawtucket, 401-724-7300,